A little longer and I’d have to call this post “My Monday AFTERNOON Cup.
“Someone recently asked, “What’s the difference between a pastor and a chaplain? Aren’t they basically the same?” While they do share some similarities, they are also quite different.
Gathered, Scattered, Unchurched, and Lost
Pastors primarily shepherd the people inside the church—the gathered church.
Chaplains focus on people outside the four walls of the corporate worship building—the scattered church, the unchurched, and the lost.
Church leaders and theologians note differences between the gathered and scattered church. The gathered church is what most of us think of when we think about our places of worship on Sunday mornings. The gathered church meets together on the Lord’s Day to take part in corporate worship, receive teaching, and enjoy communion with the local body of believers. The gathered church is organized, led by elders and pastors, and called to preach God’s Word, baptize, and make disciples.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The scattered church is the body of believers that are not gathered together in one place to participate in the activities of the gathered church. As believers, we don’t stop being the Christians once the corporate public gathering ends. We take our faith with us wherever we go and represent the Lord as His ambassadors in every aspect of our life, including the place many of us spend most of our time–work.
Wherever you go you will encounter people who, like you, profess Christ, yet for a myriad of reasons don’t belong to a church body—the unchurched. In addition to the scattered church and the unchurched, we encounter people on different spectrums of the faith journey. I contend we all believe something, even if we claim to believe in nothing. To say with confidence that there is no God requires at least considering the possibility that God exists. They looked but didn’t find God. They are searching but haven’t yet fully experienced or encountered the Lord. These people are the lost. They are the people living and working right alongside us every day. Like those of us who believe, the lost hurt, endure pain, experience loss, grieve and mourn. They experience every facet and aspect of life; good, bad, ugly, and otherwise. Like believers at times, they struggle to make sense of life and what’s going on in the world around them. They need love, care, and comfort. During life’s most difficult times, like you and me, the lost need love, care, and comfort. That’s where a chaplain comes in.
“‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
Pastor vs. Chaplain
So, what’s the difference between a pastor and a chaplain? I’m glad you asked. To be sure, the calling of the two share similarities. A pastor focuses primarily on the spiritual growth and development inside the four walls of the church. Pastors concentrate on serving and meeting the needs of their congregation, demonstrating the love of Christ to the body of believers that they have been called to lead and shepherd. Pastors tend to work with like-minded people who share the same beliefs, attitudes, and values.
Chaplains focus on the needs of people outside the church, believers and non-believers alike, trying their best to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a variety of settings that the Lord places them in. Most people are familiar with chaplains ministering in hospitals, the military, homeless shelters, or as part of a hospice care team. Fewer people have experienced chaplains caring for them in a workplace setting. Chaplains minister in a pluralistic world and to people who do not necessarily share the chaplain’s beliefs, attitudes, or values.
Generally, pastors and chaplains both have some form of theological training. A pastor’s training is more formal, especially in the United States, where the majority of pastors attend seminary and have extensive training in theology and the Bible. Chaplains may lack formal training, although they tend to be students of their faith. All chaplains, by-the-way, aren’t Christians. Today, in our modern, pluralistic world, chaplains represent a wide array of belief systems, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and even Humanism. Personally, I am a Christian and approach life from a Christian worldview and what I am speaking about in this blog post today will focus on Christian applications, as that is the faith I am most familiar with and what I profess to believe is central to understanding life as we know it and experience it.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”
Being a Chaplain
As a chaplain, I engage in faith conversations, meeting people where they are and beginning with conversations about God the way they understand Him. This means listening. Really listening. Not hearing waiting to respond. Not formulating my answer before I hear what’s said. Just meeting them where they are.
My faith conversations generally don’t begin without a relationship built over time. Trust. Confidentiality. Non-Judgement. That means investing in people through spending time with them, getting to know them, hearing their heartbeat and learning about their interests, goals, dreams, and passions. It’s a matter of showing that I care about them. I deem this to be vital in doing ministry in a pluralistic society.
A pluralistic society is diverse and consists of people who believe a spectrum of different things while striving to tolerate one other’s beliefs even though they don’t mesh with their own.
Like shepherding a church, being a chaplain requires skill, ability, and gifting. One gifting (I believe) that makes me a good chaplain is that people open up to me and share things with me that they don’t usually share even with their closest loved ones and family members. They share these in confidence. My job is to keep quiet about them. I’ve had this gift most of my life. I had to learn how to use it in the way God intended it. Gifts come with great responsibility. An outcome of that gift (I believe) is that people usually feel better after talking to me about whatever they were carrying around with them.
An area that I find to be challenging for me is being non-judgmental at all times, no matter what. People come at you espousing all sorts of attitudes, beliefs, and values. They have different backgrounds and experiences that make them who they are today as I may be encountering them for the very first time. Some people have had horrifically tragic upbringings. Others suffer from the results of difficult circumstances and situations. My job is to meet them where they are and accept them for who they are at that moment. I’m thankful that God, through the Holy Spirit, has continued to work on me in this area so that I can minister effectively to those in need. The Lord continues to grow my heart for hearing the hurts of others.
Also, like pastoring, chaplaincy demands a calling. Doing the work of a chaplain isn’t for everyone. It’s not for every family. Chaplaincy can be very spiritually and emotionally rewarding. However, it can also be mentally and physically draining. Like any ministry work, it won’t put you in the financial company of the Buffets and Bezos. It means choosing to live a lifestyle over living life in style. Yet, God provides materially, sustaining ministry, and the Lord blesses those who pursue this calling with far more abundant riches that satisfy eternally far greater than anything this temporary life could ever offer.
Chaplaincy isn’t all bad or tough either. There is often much to celebrate and cheer about. Every day, I get to experience overcoming hardships or challenges. And amid all the spiritual warfare, there are baby births, weddings, graduations, and joyous moments celebrating salvation. I get to see God at work all around me. I have the privilege of experiencing the Lord working through me, a lump of clay He has molded and shaped, making something useful out of what was once a broken vessel. I am thrilled beyond belief at the opportunity to go out and make disciples and to be able to share the love of Jesus through my ministry as a chaplain.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
As always, I’m grateful you took the time to read my post. If you have a story about experiencing God at work in your life, especially through the ministry of a chaplain, please feel free to share it in the comments below. After all, the Lord is always at work around us.
Glory be to God.
The Devotional Guy™
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